Nkonki is future-ready. Are you?

Black-owned auditing firm Nkonki has always been synonymous with trailblazing. Founded in 1993 by brother and sister Mzi Nkonki and Sindi Zilwa, the second black woman in South Africa to become a chartered accountant, Nkonki was born into the turmoil of pre-democratic South Africa and faced numerous challenges, including access to funding and intellectual capital. Under Sindi’s aggressive and stereotype-shattering leadership, Nkonki would soon become one of the largest black empowerment assurance and advisory firms and the only majority female-owned auditing firm in South Africa to be accredited by the JSE to audit listed companies.

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Initially focusing on auditing, today Nkonki is a full-service financial services firm with more than 400 staff members and 30 partners and directors. It has an international affiliation with Kreston International. The firm is now ready to enter a new era and take another great leap forward under the capable leadership of new CEO, Mitesh Patel, and Head of Assurance, Thuto Masasa.

Nkonki bettered last year's turnover four months before the end of 2017, so Mitesh takes the helm of a firm that is in great health, with a vibrant young workforce and a strong cultural foundation. Assuming the role of CEO in November 2016, Mitesh has quickly instituted far-reaching structural changes. Instead of a chairman, CEO and managing partner, the group now has a CEO and heads of divisions who report into an executive committee, which is chaired by the CEO.

The plan from the leadership is to keep building on Nkonki's strategy and to expand its lines of service to encompass all industries. Mitesh, who describes himself as an "ambitious but approachable leader" is also intent on continuing to develop the firm's tightly knit team, knowledge base and agility, while simplifying current working arrangements and implementing an open-door policy.

Constant reinvestment
What sets Nkonki apart from its peers is the strategy founded on constant reinvestment and rooting out of complacency, says Mitesh. "We are a local firm with a global presence, as opposed to having a global firm with a local presence. One big differentiator for us and one of our strong value systems is that we always use the revenue we generate from our larger clients to reinvest in the business. This has been a big factor in our success. For example, the opportunities that we got given to service Telkom and Transnet have allowed us to gain intense intellectual capital, which has enabled us to create a service line in advisory business, finding solutions within the telecommunications and freight industries."

Thuto adds that innovation and a refreshing approach to dealing with the clients has been a cornerstone of Nkonki's success.

"We want to live up to our tagline: 'Experiencing Ingenuity'. The pillars of our culture are to be impactful, inspirational, insightful, ingenious and to perform our duties with utmost integrity."

"We expect our staff to have an impact on their clients and be ingenious in their service delivery. We have made large-scale investments in developing our methodologies and tools, including technology, as quality is at the heart of our business. We are very sensitive around our clients from a project management perspective, therefore we have put appropriate mechanisms in place to ensure delivery. Many people rely on the work we do, so quality management is a robust process, at all levels of our staff. We ensure that we're very responsive at the client level and provide reliable solutions."

Opening doors
As a black-owned firm on the periphery of an industry dominated by the big four firms, Nkonki has found its access to the private sector limited by the wariness of corporates to enlist an up-and-coming firm, says Thutho, an outcomes-based leader with a passion for women empowerment. "We are finding that there are doors opening up in the private sector, just not as fast as we'd want them to," she says, emphasising that the firm is highly appreciative of the opportunities it has been given by its current private sector clients. She says the impatience to do more great work is a sign of ambition, rather than frustration.

"Supporting a homegrown brand doesn't mean you're taking a risk, which at the moment is the perception out there. We would like to change this perception by ensuring we continuously deliver excellent work for our current private sector clients."

The pair agree, however, that they are optimistic about growth, as skills development and the addition of intellectual capital are opening up opportunities in the market and companies become more amenable to medium-sized enterprises. The mandatory audit firm rotation will also provide the opportunities to continue to build the firm of the future.

Mitesh adds that the Telkom audit, which Nkonki has been tasked to conduct in conjunction with EY, has been a breakthrough. "This is a big step for the profession as it shows the market confidence that large market cap companies can rely on the quality and capability of local black firms. It allows firms such as Nkonki to further invest and develop its staff through intellectual property and thought leadership it gains as a result of clients such as Telkom. It creates better opportunities for our staffing complement, either through retention or opportunities to be placed in significant positions in the market place."

By Ebrahim Moolla

This article first appeared in CFO Magazine.